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The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained 

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained

China. The country of great mythical magic, legends, and tradition. As a result, the Chinese Zodiac Calendar is unique and fascinating. It is widely used all across Asia. Again, it is trendy amongst people who believe in it. After reading this article, you’ll have the entire knowledge about the Chinese Zodiac Calendar in just a few minutes!

Certainly, it still holds an impact on many to this day. 

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained: Concept of the Zodiac

This post is about explaining the Chinese Zodiac Calendar. You are probably familiar with the western concept of zodiac signs assigned at birth. These signs are assigned per the constellations they are named after. So, you will have certain personality traits that tie together per the constellation if you are born in a particular month. The western zodiac calendar changes every month. Additionally, the total days designated to each zodiac sign are 30 days.

Although this is a prevalent way of knowing your zodiac sign, it is not followed by people everywhere.

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained: The History of Chinese Zodiac Calendar

You may or may not have heard of the Chinese Zodiac Calendar. Many countries that surround China celebrate the beginning of the Chinese New Year to this day. In addition, unlike the Western Greco-Roman astronomical star system, the Chinese zodiac has years instead of months assigned to each zodiac period. 

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained: The Myth of The Great Race

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained

Long ago, the Jade Emperor wanted to find a way to measure the time. The Jade emperor is a mythical figure in Chinese mythology. Moreover, he is considered the ruler of the heavens. He had a magnificent court in the skies above where all the important gods of China were present in his court. 

The Jade Emperor thought it best to measure time with the help of the world’s creatures. It was then that he held The Great Race. Any animal that would make it past the finish line would succeed in securing a place in the zodiac calendar. But there was a caveat: only 12 spots were available. 

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained: The Rat, the Ox and the Tiger

This is how the tale goes: the Rat, small and clever, asked the Ox, the Tiger, and the Horse to help take him across the river, as he was too small. For some reason, the Tiger and the Horse refused. However, the kind-hearted Ox agreed.

Together they navigated through the river. But, as soon as the shore came close, the Rat bounced off the Ox’s head. So, the Rat secured first place in the calendar. Not minding this one bit, the Ox came in second place. The powerful and prideful Tiger closed in on third place. 

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained 
Mythical Rat that came 1st in The Great Race
The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained
The mythical Ox who was 2nd in The Great Race
Tiger zodiac calendar
Mythical Tiger held 3rd place in The Great Race

The Rabbit and the Dragon

The Rabbit, nimble and fast, was also too small to navigate through the river. This is because he couldn’t fight the river current on his own and had to hop over the rocks spread across the river. Therefore, the Rabbit came in the fourth position.

After that, the mighty Dragon came in 5th place. The Dragon could have easily flown over the finish line but didn’t because he decided to help some creatures along the way. 

Rabbit zodiac calendar
The mythical Rabbit, who was 4th in The Great Race
Dragon zodiac calendar
Mythical Dragon held 5th position in The Great Race

The Horse and the Snake

The Horse was going steadfast in his path. She was suddenly startled by something grazing her leg. She saw the Snake slithering out from underneath her when she looked down. In the horse’s shock, the Snake sneaked past in 6th place. The Horse followed and got 7th place, instead.

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Snake zodiac calendar
The mythical Snake who came 6th in The Great Race
The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained
Mythical Horse who came 7th in The Great Race

The Sheep, the Monkey and the Rooster

All this time, the Jade Emperor was watching the animals competing. He spotted the Rooster, the Sheep, and the Monkey as he looked on. All three were on a raft, working together to make it across the river. When they reached the shore, they all decided to give 8th place to the Sheep. The Monkey and the Rooster secured the positions of 9th and 10th, respectively. The Sheep’s calm and harmonious nature made their journey so peaceful. 

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar Explained
Mythical Sheep who came 8th in The Great Race
Monkey zodiac calendar
The mythical Monkey who came 9th in The Great Race
Rooster zodiac calendar
Mythical Rooster who came 10th in The Great Race

The Dog

The Dog was a great swimmer and found it easy to navigate through the weeds and current of the river. However, owing to his nature, he frolicked in the water for so long that he only secured 11th position. 

Dog zodiac calendar
Mythical Dog who came 11th in The Great Race

The Pig

Finally, the last animal to make it to the finish line was the Pig. The Pig had no difficulty either on the journey. The only problem he faced was finding some food along the way and eating his full. He then decided to digest the food by taking a long nap.

Pig zodiac calendar
Mythical Pig came 12th in The Great Race and completed it.

When he finally made it through, the Chinese Zodiac Calendar was complete. 12 animals for 12 years. Each animal gets a whole year to itself. 

The Starting of The Cycles

The cycle starts every 60 years. Why 60 and not 12, you may ask? This is because the Chinese calendar consists of 2 overlapping systems. The animals of the zodiac represent the Earthly Branches.

Ten Heavenly Stems is another cycle. This is associated with the classical elements. These include metal, water; fire; wood; earth. Each of these elements is assigned to the ongoing zodiac animal. When these twelve animals of the Earthly Branches are matched with the five elements of the Heavenly Stems, it creates 60 years of different variations. Amazing concept, right? I certainly found it interesting enough to share with you all.

Relevance Today

The variations in themselves are fascinating. People born in these varying years can trace their personality traits to the animal and the element assigned. So, this makes them feel special and unique in their personality and temperament. For example, someone born in 1997 is a Fire-Ox. This means they are kind-hearted but can burn when crossed or not satisfied. 

Asia is a very traditional region in the world. Asians are very in-tune with their culture and their traditions. For this reason, they are also very superstitious. This relation with the zodiac calendar is useful for them as they can relate heavily and believe in the traditions and traits of their elements and zodiac years. 

New year celebration


You have now learned the myth of The Great Race and the history behind the entirety of the Chinese Zodiac Calendar. It really is times like these you truly appreciate how tradition and culture are important. Hence, it wouldn’t shock you as much to know that it is still celebrated and followed every year in China and some other countries. It carries a rich history for them.

But wait! There’s so much more fascinating stuff to read about the Chinese culture! For example, you can learn about How Chinese People Find Love and the History of The Outlawed Foot-Binding in China.

By Hina Butt

Hina has spent a huge chunk of her life in China and considers it as her second home. She's a mommy of two perfect kids and now lives in Oman after moving in with her husband.
Before she started writing blog posts for SesameDisk, she got a graduate degree in Medicine(M.B.B.S) from Southeast University, Nanjing, China. During that time, just to shake things up, she went to Language school at the Shandong University in Jinan and ended up passing HSK Level 6 with flying colors.
She then worked as a GP and did a handful of practices, taught English in Chinese schools and later got into beauty blogging with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here!
She now writes full-time.

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